“Hi my name is Kent and I’m a recovering pessimist.” If there were a recovery group for pessimists I’d be there. I grew up in a family that was always waiting for the other shoe to drop, always ready for the ‘sh*t to hit the fan’. Perhaps this type of doomsday thinking came from my parent’s growing up as children in the Great Depression.
Regardless of its source this type of pessimistic thinking was part of my childhood. I remember however as a child in later elementary school thinking that this was no way to live. I intentionally sought refuge in the homes of friends whose parents had a more sunny disposition and hopeful way of looking at the world.
As I grew older I came to realize that being optimistic, hopeful was a choice. Later as a recovering pessimist I read a book by Tim Hansel entitled ‘You Gotta Keep Dancing’. The book is Hansel’s story of living with chronic pain after shattering his back in a mountaineering accident.
Some years ago I met Hansel and heard him speak about his journey with pain. As he spoke spasms of pain washed over him. This is what he said: “Joy is a choice. It is based upon the deep seated belief that whatever happens in life, good or bad, that I’m not alone. It is the belief that whatever happens that I am loved and cherished by God. And my joy comes in knowing that this love is always with me.”
He went on to say: “Joy is different than happiness. Happiness is based on the root word happening. Happiness comes when good things are happening to us. But joy is a choice. Joy transcends circumstances.”
I want that joy that Hansel speaks of. As an adult I’ve had my share of challenges and heartache but I’ve learned to lean into my faith and place my trust in the God that Tim Hansel speaks of and in that relationship I’ve been graced at times with joy.
But I know myself pretty well. I understand my capacity to look at the world as a glass half empty. And so I say: “Hi, my name is Kent I’m a recovering pessimist.” In doing so that pessimistic part of me loses much of its power and I can once again make that choice to be hopeful, even joyful.
I write this on the eve of Thanksgiving. This day invites us to focus on what we have rather than what we don’t. Thanksgiving invites us to count our blessings. For pessimists this day is like oxygen, inviting us to reorient our way of thinking and being.